The Italian Foreign Ministry has summoned the Russian ambassador to the country in the wake of the detention of a Russian Army official and an Italian Navy captain on suspicion of spying.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said that he lodged a protest with Russian Ambassador to Rome Sergei Razov concerning the detention of a Russian military diplomat on espionage charges and informed him about the expulsion of two diplomats.
"In connection with the summoning of the Russian ambassador to Italy to the Foreign Ministry, we conveyed to the latter a firm protest by the Italian government and notified about the immediate expulsion of two Russian officials involved in this very serious case", Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.
Not only does the incident endanger Italy’s security, it also threatens NATO, Luigi Di Maio added later in the day.
"What happened today is unacceptable and will have consequences, there is no doubt about that. It is unacceptable that our naval personnel are paid for NATO information. This endangers not only our security, but the entire alliance," Di Maio said at a joint meeting of foreign affairs committees of both chambers of the Italian parliament.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, expressed regret over the expulsion of the diplomats and is now clarifying the circumstances of Italy’s decision. Such moves do not meet the level of bilateral ties, the ministry added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday expressed hope that the detention of a Russian military diplomat in Italy would not affect bilateral relations, noting the latter are quite positive.
"We currently do not have information about the reasons and the circumstances of this detention. Anyway, we hope that Russian-Italian relations will remain quite positive and constructive", Peskov told reporters, when asked if the situation could affect relations with Rome.
"The operation was conducted during their secret meeting, immediately after the Italian officer provided secret documents in exchange for a certain amount of money. Upon completion of official procedures, the [Italian] officer was arrested, while the case of the foreign citizen is still under consideration because of his diplomatic status", the special operations group (ROS) said in a press release.
The two were detained on Tuesday evening. The investigation was carried out with support from Italy’s Internal Information and Security Agency (AISI) and the country’s Defence General Staff. According to the press release, the Russian officer was accredited to the Russian Embassy in Rome.
According to the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, the Russian military diplomat handed an envelope with 5,000 euros ($5800) to an Italian officer in exchange for secret documents.